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All of my children are well traveled. All of my kids took a major trip before the age of 3 months. For the Goof, he actually took 4 major trips within one year of being born. So, I know what Tips for Flying with a Baby or Toddlers the novice traveler needs before embarking on an adventure with a little one in tow.
Tips for Flying with a Baby or Toddlers
For some reason, road trips seem easy to me. I can pack everything how I want it. I have the comfort of my own car, and my kids are in their car seats and I don’t have to worry about layovers, or entertaining children before boarding a plane.
I remember how nervous I was the first time I flew with The Goof. We were flying from Idaho to Texas to visit friends for a week. After that trip, we didn’t fly again until he was 18 months. I am not sure which one terrified me more- a crying baby on a plane, or an active toddler that might try and run off in the crowded Denver airport. Thankfully, we made it through both times, and have flown a few more times since.
If you are dubious about flying with kids, especially young ones, check out our post about why we travel with young children.
Booking Your Flight with a Baby or Toddler
My first tips are about booking your flights when flying with a baby and/or toddler. Your flight schedule, airline, and seating arrangements can make a huge difference in how your experience goes, so this is an important step in planning your travel.
- Non-Stop vs Layovers: Sometimes you might have a choice between non-stop flights or having a layover (or two). Many people would think the obvious choice is non-stop but it is important you look at the length of the flight. Will your child be able to handle a non-stop flight without a little time out of the plane? If you have an infant they probably can. Toddlers often times need a chance to get some energy out though.
- Note: check how long the layover(s) will be. Make sure you have a layover that does not make you feel overly rushed- giving you plenty of time to change diapers, get to connecting flights, and give kids a break and maybe even a snack. You also do not want to have a layover that leaves you sitting in an airport for a few hours with anxious little ones. We usually aim for a layover that is right around 60-90 minutes long. That way we have time to get off our plane, get our stroller from gate check, change diapers and get to our connecting flight in time to board with the pre-boarding.
- Picking the right airline: Speaking of pre-boarding. Be sure to read up on the policies of different airlines. I have never been on an airline that did not allow families to pre-board, but I have heard some don’t. Also, do you want to be able to choose your seats ahead of time or are you willing to hope you can all find seats together? All of these different options (or lack of) should be considered when choosing what airline to fly on.
- To book a seat for a baby or not? Sometimes parents get excited about the fact that children under 2 can fly free as lap children. It sounds like a great way to save money, but honestly, this is something you may want to look into a little more.
First, if you will need a car seat for your child when you get to your destination, sometimes it is easier and better to have your own with you. And while most airlines (all that I have flown on) allow you to check your car seat for free (at the gate or even below) you have to remember that checking a seat means it will get tossed around in cargo, and that can cause damage to your seat.
Also, most airlines will point out to you on their site that the safest place for your child is to be restrained in the seat (in a car seat for infants and young toddlers). I strongly suggest purchasing a seat for your child. It gives you a place for their car seat and makes it so you aren’t busy holding a baby the entire time. Especially if you have more children then adults.
Packing a carry on when flying with a baby or toddler
When flying with a baby or toddler, your carry on luggage is actually VERY important. When you fly as an adult, kid-free, you can get away with just bringing a purse, or even just your phone and some headphones and maybe a book. Not when flying with children. I am going to show you how we pack our carry on when flying with babies and toddlers. Make sure to take advantage of our tips for making your own DIY Baby Travel Kit too before you travel.
- Choosing a bag- even if you are taking a carry on that will go inside the overhead compartment- it is important to have your “personal item” bag that you can easily access from your seat. This is the one that will have all the stuff you may need for you and baby from the time you get to the airport until you get to your destination. Choose a bag that is easy to organize, and also easy to get into without spilling out all the contents. I strongly suggest a diaper bag with lots of pockets or a backpack. We use a backpack that actually attaches to our baby carrier (check out our tips on how to choose a baby carrier) which makes it super easy when walking through the airport. Backpacks are also much easier to wear when wrangling little ones in the airport.
- Snacks- Snacks are a must when flying with babies or toddlers. Most books or toys will not entertain a child under the age of two long enough to get through an entire flight, let alone the waiting in the airport(s). Snacks seem to keep kids happy though. I always try to bring crackers, goldfish, and maybe some raisins. If your child is on formula I suggest bringing some (you can buy travel packs or you can bring ready-made formula. For a toddler I like to just take an empty sippy cup and then fill it up at a drinking fountain after we get past security. I also like to throw in a few snacks for the parents if we are traveling longer than a few hours, usually, a granola bar for a quick “pick me up” snack option.
- BONUS TIP: Have children drink or suck on a pacifier during take off to help their ears.
- Entertainment- Entertainment is tricky. Infants tend to mostly sleep or need a few basic baby toys. Once you hit the toddler stage, it is a little trickier. I try and pack some books, even sticker activity books for older children. Color Wonder markers and coloring books are great too. I also am not against bringing a tablet for a little one. We put some age appropriate apps that mostly let them color with their fingers or even a few children’s sing-along videos on them. Just be sure to pack headphones if you will have the sound on.
- BONUS TIP: Noise cancelling headphones are also great for kids who are scared of loud noises.
- BONUS TIP: Noise cancelling headphones are also great for kids who are scared of loud noises.
- Diaper changing kit- One thing you definitely will want with you is a diaper changing kit. I suggest purchasing or making a diaper changing mat so you have a clean surface to put your baby on when changing them. Plus it holds your diapers and wipes for you.
- Extra clothing- I always suggest having extra clothing for the baby (and maybe even an extra shirt for mom and dad) easily accessible in case something happens during travel. It could be spilling food, spit up, or anything else. I suggest packing a full outfit for your baby or toddler in a quart size storage bag. That way, if you use the outfit, you also have a place to put the soiled outfit without it getting all over everything.
- All the little extras- Don’t forget to bring things like your kids stuffed animal, pacifiers, tissues, and more.
- BONUS TIP: Don’t expect kids to be willing to carry their own carry ons. Especially if you are not checking bags. We once flew with our niece and nephew (10 and 8 at the time) and the Goof (age 2). Everyone brought carry ons because we didn’t want to pay for all the checked bags. Suddenly those two older kids acted like their arms were broken and they couldn’t even take their carry on luggage down the aisle. If you are going to have older kids carry their own carry on (so you can handle baby) be sure it has wheels.
Packing the carry on when you are flying with a baby
Before packing the carry on, be sure to head to the store to get everything you need. Make sure to grab our free printable Travel Packing List that is just for travel with kids before you start packing. It’s so handy!
- Place snacks and sippy cups (empty) or bottles in their own pockets. This helps keep them from getting smashed.
- Place books and tablets in the back of your bag, easy to get out and slide back in.
- Put a diaper changing kit with diapers and wipes inside of a changing pad in the bag. Also, put in a change of clothing for baby.
- In outside pockets, place tissues, lovies, and pacifiers.
Tips for going through security and flying with babies and toddlers
I think the most stressful time when flying with babies and toddlers is going through security. Juggling a small child, luggage, and knowing you may be subject to a search can bring on stress. Some basic tips for flying with a baby and managing security checks will help alleviate your stress before you arrive at the airport.
- Read TSA Guidelines and PRINT THEM OUT- Be sure to read up on the TSA guidelines, especially if traveling with pumped breastmilk or ready to drink formula/milk. Yes, you can bring these liquids, but you do need to declare them, and there are guidelines for how TSA will handle these items. Also read up for things like medicines, diapers cream, etc. I always suggest printing out the guidelines in case you get a newer TSA agent and you need to advocate for yourself and your baby (especially in the case of breastmilk or formula)
- Use the family line at security- The family line is the best when you are traveling with little ones. You don’t feel quite as rushed as you do in the main security lines. This line is made for slower processing because they realize flying with a baby or toddler is going to create more work.
- Know what to expect- Remember that mom, dad and any children over the age of 12 will need to remove their shoes going through security. Kids do not need to remove their shoes unless instructed by a TSA agent, but we have found that our kids want to when they see everyone else doing it. Also be prepared to remove the baby from any carrier when going through security. Babies may be carried through the metal detector by mom or dad, but if possible, they should walk through on their own. Know that even though breastmilk and formula are allowed, you need to take them out and declare them to the TSA agent. They may test these items (they do not handle the actual item or dip anything in them) but you are allowed to bring them.
- Expect a little stress- if you have several little kids like we do, just expect that security will be a little stressful. Planning on a little stress makes it a bit easier to deal with. Get to the airport early, and just try and remember, this will only be stressful for a few moments.
Tips for the wait before your flight
- Let children walk around or play a little while at the airport- I like to make them walk with me places to help get their wiggles out. I have them all sit down about 10 minutes before boarding will start.
- Use pre-boarding if available- If your airline offers pre-boarding for families with small children use it. Especially if you have car seats to get set up in the seats. My husband sometimes takes one of the kids and the stuff and goes in first, and I hang out with the other children until the last minute. If you need any help, be sure to check with the attendant at the gate. They are super friendly and there to help you. Yes, this may cost a bit extra with some airlines, but it is money well spent.
- Gate check strollers – Gate check your strollers so that you can use them to navigate airports durring layovers and while waiting for luggage and such. This is especially important for us when our children out number the parents.
- Have fun- Have fun with the kids. See if the flight attendants will let your kids see the cockpit if they wait until after everyone else gets off the plane. Point things out to them through the window. Let them look through the sky catalogs. Make flying a fun experience for your kids and it will make it more enjoyable for yourself as well.
Setting yourself up for a successful travel adventure
Your next trip with children in tow doesn’t have to bring dread or fear. These tips above will help you to have an amazing trip with your family, no matter the age. These tips for flying with a baby or toddler come from my own personal experience. What have been your experiences? Did I miss any tips? Let me know in the comments below.